Updated  
August, 06 2014 11:00:00

Gaza truce pushes into second day ahead of Cairo talks

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — A fragile ceasefire in Gaza pushed into a second day on Wednesday as Israeli and Palestinian delegations prepared for crunch talks in Cairo to try to extend the 72-hour truce.

The ceasefire, which came into effect on Tuesday and carried past midnight into Wednesday, has brought relief to millions on both sides after one month of fighting killed 1,875 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian delegations are now set for what are expected to be tough talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire after the three-day window closes.

Officials on both sides confirmed sending small teams to the Egyptian capital, but they bring conflicting demands and face an uphill diplomatic battle ahead.

The Palestinians insist Israel end its eight-year blockade of Gaza and open border crossings, while Israel wants Gaza fully demilitarised.

But after the longest period of quiet since fighting began, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said he expected "the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond".

The United States is set to participate in the Cairo talks. "We are determining at what level and in what capacity and when," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a BBC interview, called for a sustained ceasefire but stressed that the crucial wider issues will need to be addressed.

"How are we going to make peace? How are we going to eliminate these rockets? How are we going to demilitarise and move towards a different future?"

In Gaza City, people came out in numbers on Tuesday afternoon, children played on the street and the beach, and some shops reopened for the first time in days.

Others ventured home for the first time only to witness scenes of devastation. "What am I going to tell my wife and children? I don't want them to see this! They will go crazy," said Khayri Hasan al-Masri, a father of three who returned to his heavily damaged home in Beit Hanun in the north after fleeing when Israel's ground offensive began on July 17.

At a bullet-riddled girls' school, an Israeli flag and an anti-Hamas slogan had been etched on the wall of a classroom, and discarded ration packs and tuna cans labelled in Hebrew littered the floor.

Relief but scepticism

Israel's security cabinet convened to discuss efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire deal, but broke up without any public statement.

In southern Israel, there was relief but scepticism. "I never trust Hamas," said Orly Doron, an Israeli mother living in a kibbutz on the Gaza border that has been battered by rocket fire.

"We had three or four ceasefires during this war; we all saw they weren't kept." It is the second time in four days the two sides had agreed to observe a 72-hour humanitarian truce. The last attempt on August 1 -- brokered by Washington and the UN -- was shattered within just 90 minutes.

This time Israel has withdrawn its troops, ending the ground operation aimed at destroying tunnels Gaza militants use to attack its territory.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said troops would respond to any truce violations.

Israeli brigadier general Guy Goldstein, deputy head of the unit responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said more than 250 trucks of supplies crossed into Gaza on Tuesday.

"We transferred food, animal feed, water, medicines, medical supplies, mattresses, blankets," he said. "We let out people with dual nationality and let in medical teams... dozens of people," he added.

He said that four power lines leading into Gaza were repaired and two more should be fixed by morning. The territory's only power plant was shelled during the conflict, leading to a blackout.

$6bn worth of damage

The ceasefire, announced by Egypt late on Monday, is the longest lull since fighting began.

The Palestinian health ministry said 1,875 Palestinians had been killed during the conflict, including 430 children, and said 9,567 people had been wounded, including 2,878 children.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said the 29-day war had caused total damage of up to $6 billion (4.5 billion euros).

Some of the worst devastation is near the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which was flattened in a massive Israeli assault that began on Friday.

The United States and the United Nations have welcomed the truce, saying the onus was on Hamas to uphold its end of the deal.

Israel has been subject to increasingly harsh criticism over the high number of civilian casualties during its military operation launched on July 8 to counter rocket fire from Gaza.

A British parliamentary committee said on Wednesday that excessive Israeli restrictions on Palestinian territories cannot be justified on the grounds they protect the Jewish state.

The Israeli army says it destroyed 32 cross-border tunnels, struck nearly 4,800 targets and killed 900 Palestinian "terrorists".

"We expect that they still have about 3,000 rockets left. This is a challenge we have to address," Lerner said. — AFP


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